Monday, October 08, 2018

A Temperature as a Fraction

Michael Moore begins his 2018 film, Fahrenheit 11/9, with a very clear question; "How the fuck did this happen?" meaning Trump's election. It's a very good question particularly since he poses it after a chilling and depressing compilation of commentators and voters showing absolute certainty in Clinton's victory. But in the course of his meandering film, which comes off more as a left slanted synopsis of political news over the past couple years than Moore's previous films, he surprisingly doesn't put much effort into answering it. Of course he mentions how he was famously one of the very few who predicted Trump's victory but he spends little time discussing his reasoning behind that prediction. The most effective part of the film has a very tenuous connexion to Trump, focusing on the water crisis in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan. Unsurprisingly, that part of the film feels personal and certainly non-partisan. The rest of the film offers little new to anyone who follows the news.

Moore talks about the electoral college, Clinton's winning the popular vote, and justly puts blame on a massive percentage of people who didn't bother to vote at all. These are good points except no-one was bringing them up before Clinton lost. When Moore shows crowds of ecstatic Clinton supporters already celebrating her victory the night before and the thin, glum crowd at Trump's venue, he powerfully sets up a question that isn't answered by pointing to the electoral college or complacent non-voters; why were people so certain?

Moore spends a lot of time comparing Trump to Hitler. He even talks to Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, who stridently likens the separation of families crossing the Mexican border to Nazi tactics, though otherwise Moore surprisingly spends no time on this issue. But Moore never interviews a single Trump voter and, aside from comparing the propaganda of Trump's more extreme right wing, racist followers, never shows exactly why the situation in the U.S. is more like Nazi Germany than anything else.

A significant portion of the film focuses on the Parkland shooting survivors but no particular link is made between that incident and Trump. He shows clips of Trump's sit down with parents, students, and administrators but, like a lot of the coverage of that event, edits out the parents who support the idea of training and arming teachers. Instead, like much of the film, this segment seems designed to be a rallying cry to the left, focusing on how effective and powerful the student activists could be in delivering their message, a point that sits oddly next to another segment where Moore criticises the inertia of "hope". This might tie into the surprisingly critical view Moore takes of Obama in the segment on Flint.

Moore speaks to citizens and doctors who are continuing to deal with a polluted water supply following the Republican governor's decision to privatise the clean water piped in from Lake Michigan. A scene where Obama shows up to adoring crowds ends with the president giving the meaningless symbolic gesture of sipping from a glass of water, essentially shrugging off the whole crisis.

The film ends with Moore shying away from directly calling for a solution for Flint or the country but hints that extreme methods might be necessary. I'd say a clear sighted documentary that follows through on its thesis would be a good start.

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